Caregiving is not for the faint of heart. Whether caregiving starts suddenly or follows a period of declining cognitive abilities or changing medical needs, caregiving demands can be overwhelming. And while caregiving for a loved one can be rewarding, it also brings stressors for the caregiver (usually women), who typically provide care for a parent, spouse or sibling. Stressors include household disruption, financial pressure and burnout.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance/National Center on Caregiving, caregivers of any age are less likely to take care of themselves. Baby boomers who care for parents while juggling work and/or raising adolescent children face an increased risk of depression and chronic illness. If you’re a caregiver, you likely already know these things, but what do you do?
According to Leah Eskenazi of the Family Caregiver Alliance/National Center on Caregiving, “All caregivers can benefit from information, education, support and services. No two situations are alike. What will best meet your need? Maybe you really need someone to listen to you. Caregivers often feel alone, don’t want to burden their friends and don’t know how to ask [for help]. People say to us, when do I have time to take care of myself? We say put yourself on your schedule. Whether it’s a walk around the block or doing some gardening, do something that makes you happy.”
She adds, “We hear [caregivers say] a lot, I never do anything right, a lot of negative self-talk. We tell them there is no ‘right’ way to do something.”
Laurie McNeil, family caregiver coordinator at the Durham Center for Senior Life in Durham, N.C., says one of the books her organization recommends from their free lending library for caregivers is The 36-Hour Day. Although the book focuses on dementia/Alzheimer’s challenges, it’s also a practical guide for anyone caring for someone with a progressive illness.
She suggests caregivers caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia-related issues contact the Alzheimer’s Association of Eastern North Carolina. The organization features many helpful resources, including a 24/7 “Helpline.”
McNeil says using adult day care services can give caregivers a break, adding, “Some use adult day care as a respite, some because they [caregivers] are working and some use it because they see the benefit for their loved ones. It prevents social isolation, and if a parent has trouble sleeping at night, they will sleep at night [because of day care stimulation].”
In terms of dealing with stress, Eskenazi says, “One of the number one things caregivers can do is think about what they have control over and what they don’t have control over, and focus their energy on where they do have control. You need to recognize what you can and cannot do.”
McNeil advises, “Don’t just take what someone tells you as gospel. The more you educate yourself, the more questions you can ask. And give yourself permission not to be perfect.”
Some Final Tips:
- When friends ask how they can help, have a mental list ready of tasks others could do, such as picking up a few things at the grocery store for you. When you break down jobs into simple tasks, it’s easier for people to help.
- Self-educate via books, websites, online support groups or with resources from groups listed at the end of this article. Learn as much as you can about coping strategies, dealing with practical matters and learn as much as you can about your loved one’s medical condition(s).
- Realize that taking time off is not selfish. Times off gives you a break, a chance to attend a support group, church or just have some fun. A lunch out with friends or a day trip can provide much-needed stress reduction for you. If it’s difficult to leave home, invite friends over to visit over coffee or tea, or watch a funny comedy video or movie on television.
- Make time for your own health, with regular medical checkups for yourself. Make every effort to eat as healthily as possible and fit some walking into your life, even if it’s only a ten-minute walk.
- A friend’s mother often repeated the old saying, “This too shall pass.” When you’re in the midst of caregiving, it can seem never-ending. Try to focus on the positive time you are still able to share with your loved one.
by Audrey Hingley
For More Information:
Family Caregiver Alliance/National Center on Caregiving
www.caregiver.org telephone: 1-800-445-8106
Durham Center for Senior Life, Durham, N.C.
www.dcslnc.lrg telephone: (919)688-8247
Resources for Seniors, Raleigh, N.C.
www.resourcesforseniors.com telephone: (919)872-7933
Alzheimer’s Association of Eastern North Carolina
www.alz.org/nc telephone: 800-272-3900